PET FRIENDLY: Managing Back-to-School Pet Separation Anxiety

| September 4, 2013 | 1 Comment | Pet Friendly

For many households in Bristow, Labor Day functions like a light switch that turns summer off and the back-to-school/work season on. If you feel regret or trepidation with the sudden change in schedule, you are not alone. Your pet shares this feeling too.

With advanced planning and creative tactics, you can help your pet manage their separation anxiety. Dogs are infamous for vocalizing and acting out their separation anxieties, but many cat owners experience similar pet behaviors when their schedules change abruptly.

The ideal approach is to be proactive, preparing your pet before the summer ‘light switch’ is turned off. If signs of separation anxiety already are present, you can take corrective action to tame new undesirable behaviors using pet distraction and desensitizing strategies.

Common symptoms of separation anxiety in cats and dogs include increased barking, howling or meowing with a complaining tone, reduced or increased interest in following you to the door or greeting you upon your return, urination or defecation in ‘unauthorized’ areas and destructive chewing or scratching of furniture and flooring or digging in the yard.

Sudden change triggers anxieties in people and pets. My wife’s return to work at school each fall clearly impacts our dog’s daily rhythms. We have learned to make adjustments in our interactions to desensitize her to our comings and goings, addressing anxiety and boredom with enjoyable distractions.  We also provide extra TLC when one or both of us are home.

First, consult with your vet to ensure any sudden change in your pet’s behavior is not related to a health problem.  Next, work to relieve schedule-change stress that can trigger pet separation anxiety.  Pet behaviorists and veterinarians often recommend we use distraction and desensitization to do so.

Distraction Tactics

Train your pet to associate being alone with things they like: food and entertainment.  Kong or other toys with food inside can provide lots of entertainment and distract pets from destructive behaviors fueled by anxiety and boredom. Occasional use of catnip toys for cats and low-volume music or TV background noise also can reduce anxiety. Cats and dogs like to see the world outside, so move furniture or take other steps so they can look out the window.  Exercising your dog or cat just before you leave also can help them relax and minimize peak anxiety after your departure.

Desensitizing Strategies

Pets watch and understand our routines more than we suspect. They see signs of your upcoming trip and family schedule shifts after Labor Day. You can reduce their interest in your comings and goings by doing so more often for periods of different length and avoiding any “fanfare.” If you travel regularly, consider leaving a suitcase open and packing or unpacking an item or two a few times/week. Make your pre-travel and pre-departure activities more frequent and routine, and they will become less important to your pet.  And provide a bit more TLC when your pet and you are together!

Chris Bates is the founder of Top Choice Pet Care LLC (, which provides affordable, loving and reliable dog walking, pet sitting and other pet services to the Bristow, Gainesville, Haymarket, Manassas and Nokesville communities.  A farmer’s son, life-long animal lover and pet owner, Chris is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter (CPPS) through Pet Sitters International and is PetSaver™ trained in pet first aid and CPR.



© 2013, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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  1. Bates80 says:

    I had a cat that would ignore me as a “punishment” if I dared take a trip and leave him with family members. It could take him several weeks to warm up to me again.

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